ThomasVanek

Who's truly best for your fantasy squad - Chris Kunitz or Thomas Vanek?

 

This week I’m featuring two players – Chris Kunitz and Thomas Vanek – who finished with identical points stats (68 points in 78 games) in 2013-14. But which one will fare better in 2014-15 and beyond?

 

Quick note - I realize that I included Vanek in another Cage Match a few months ago, but the lure of comparing him and Kunitz – with their identical points stats – was too difficult to pass up. Plus, this time I’m including additional luck-based metrics. Put it this way – this will be worth your time even if you read the prior Vanek Cage Match.

 

Career Path and Contract Status/Cap Implications

Kunitz has gone from being undrafted and then waived by two separate teams (topping out at 60 points for Anaheim in 2006-07) to being a legitimate star for Pittsburgh (where he’s bested the 60 point mark twice and had a point per game season in 2012-13) and a member of the 2014 Olympic gold medal Canadian men’s hockey team.

 

Vanek also exceeded a point per game in 2012-13, his first time doing so since back in 2006-07. The 68 points he tallied in 2013-14 (between the Sabres, Islanders, and Canadiens) was actually his third highest full season total, and most since 73 points in 2010-11. And although Vanek – a former fifth overall draft pick - is four years younger than Kunitz, he’s actually played in more NHL games (663 vs. 659).

 

The big unknown is the details of the UFA contract Vanek will sign this summer. But it’s safe to assume his new deal will dwarf – maybe even double – Kunitz’s ($3.85M per season through 2016-17), allowing us to already bank on Kunitz being a significant bargain versus Vanek in cap leagues.

 

Ice Time

I broke down Vanek’s Ice Time for each of his 2013-14 teams, to help get a better idea of where he might fit on a new team. Kunitz didn’t line up alongside the injured Sidney Crosby for the majority of 2010-11 and 2011-12, so it’ll be interesting to see his Ice Time in those seasons versus the other two.

 

Season

Total Ice Time per game (amount ahead of second highest forward)

PP Ice Time per game (amount ahead of second highest forward)

SH Ice Time (with rank among team’s forwards)

2013-14

19:09 (CK) – 3rd

18:36 (TV – Buff) – 5th

20:00 (TV – NYI) – 3rd

18:11 (TV - Mon) – 3rd

3:37 (CK) – 4th

3:43 (TV – Buff) – 1st

4:02 (TV – NYI) – 2nd

3:53 (TV - Mon) – 1st

0:10 (CK) – 11th

0:02 (TV – Buff) – 13th

0:01 (TV – NYI) – 16th

0:02 (TV - Mon) – 13th

2012-13

18:01 (CK) – 3rd

18:24 (TV) – 3rd

3:49 (CK) – 4th

3:19 (TV) – 3rd

0:08 (CK) – 8th

0:12 (TV) – 10th

2011-12

18:18 (CK) – 5th

16:56 (TV) – 5th

3:31 (CK) – 5th

3:02 (TV) – 2nd

0:08 (CK) – 8th

0:17 (TV) – 10th

2010-11

18:16 (CK) – 4th

17:21 (TV) – 3rd

4:10 (CK) – 3rd

3:15 (TV) – 2nd

0:31 (CK) – 6th

0:03 (TV) – 14th

Nothing too surprising here, except that neither surpassed 18:24 in overall Ice Time other than for 2013-14. While some of that has to do with limited shorthanded duty, it was still unexpected. Although we shouldn’t expect to see either one facing a decreased Ice Time soon, it’s still very reassuring to see two players who can clearly produce well even with low Ice Time compared to other star players.

Vanek he received by far the most Ice Time (overall and on the PP) while playing on the Islanders and with John Tavares, although for what it’s worth that resulted in him tallying a very good but not outstanding 44 points in 47 games. This might mean you shouldn’t expect much better production from Vanek – at least maybe not in his first season - even if he was able to get 20:00+ per game playing for a new club alongside a top center.


Secondary Categories

I’ve only included Vanek’s 2013-14 stats for the Islanders, since he played 47 of his 78 games for them (representing a very good sample size) and in order not to clutter the data too much.

 

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2013-14

0.86 (CK)

0.72 (TV - NYI)

2.01 (CK)

0.36 (TV- NYI)

0.32 (CK)

0.21 (TV - NYI)

2.79 (CK)

2.91 (TV - NYI)

0.28 (CK)

0.25 (TV - NYI)

2012-13

0.81 (CK)

0.52 (TV)

2.16 (CK)

0.34 (TV)

0.27 (CK)

0.10 (TV)

2.35 (CK)

3.13 (TV)

0.33 (CK)

0.37 (TV)

2011-12

0.60 (CK)

0.66 (TV)

2.19 (CK)

0.43 (TV)

0.34 (CK)

0.28 (TV)

2.80 (CK)

2.61 (TV)

0.22 (CK)

0.30 (TV)

2010-11

0.71 (CK)

0.30 (TV)

2.34 (CK)

0.375 (TV)

0.21 (CK)

0.15 (TV)

2.01 (CK)

2.97 (TV)

0.16 (CK)

0.35 (TV)


Like Ice Time, there’s actually very little variation from year to year. Kunitz’s strong areas (Hits, Shots) have stayed consistently strong, as has his weakest area - Blocked Shots, which is actually an even weaker area for Vanek. It’s a similar pattern of consistency for Vanek, who fared best – and slightly better than Kunitz - in Shots and PP Points. Kunitz is better overall in PIMs than Vanek, although Vanek’s best PIM season was better than Kunitz’s worst.

The benefit of their consistent output is it allows those in multi-cat leagues to value them appropriately and to confidently draft them with an expected level of production. The only caveat might be Kunitz in Hits, since as players age (Kunitz turns 35 in September) they might become less prone to delivering checks, out of fear their bodies won’t be able to stand the wear and tear.

 

Luck-Based Metrics (five on five)

I’m particularly interested in the 2012-13 data for Kunitz, since that was his only point per game season, and the 2013-14 data for Vanek, since that was the his only time playing with a truly superstar center in John Tavares (and no –2006-07 Daniel Briere doesn’t count despite his 95 points that season). Some of Vanek’s numbers are shown only for Montreal, which was all that was available on the sites I use to look up this data.

 

Season

Personal Shooting Percentage

Team Shooting Percentage

PDO

IPP

2013-14

16.1% (CK)

10.9% (TV- overall)

11.07% (CK)

11.66% (TV- MON)

1029 (CK)

1039 (TV- MON)

65.1% (CK)

76.9 (TV - MON)

2012-13

19.5% (CK)

16.8% (TV)

13.21% (CK)

10.68% (TV)

1074 (CK)

1007 (TV)

69.4% (CK)

80.8% (TV)

2011-12

11.3% (CK)

12.8% (TV)

10.13% (CK)

10.69% (TV)

1002 (CK)

1018 (TV)

58.6% (CK)

75.0% (TV)

2010-11

17.3% (CK)

13.4% (TV)

10.10% (CK)

9.49% (TV)

1030 (CK)

1012 (TV)

69.6% (CK)

74.5% (TV)


I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no – the data for Kunitz in 2012-13 are not typos. And because those numbers occurred during Kunitz’s only point per game season, that makes it all the more likely to have been an outlier season which will not be repeated.

 

In fact, if his personal shooting percentage was 13.3% (his career average) in 2012-13, then his goal total would’ve dropped by as many as seven, resulting in 35 points in 38 games instead of 42 points. And there’s no saving grace in his 69.4% IPP for 2012-13, because his IPP runs consistently low.

 

If there’s any good news for Kunitz owners, it’s that although the numbers in the other three seasons (when he scored at a combined 64 point full season pace) were also somewhat high, at least they were more consistent. That means a sudden drop below 60 points would be unexpected. But even though I normally don’t like to talk in absolutes in this column, it’s nearly a certainty that Kunitz - particularly at his age - will not surpass point per game totals again in view of his shockingly high 2012-13 metrics.

 

On the other hand, Vanek’s numbers for his 2012-13 point per game campaign are generally in line with these other three seasons. Sure – his IPP in 2012-13 was highest, but by a small margin; and his PDO in 2012-13 was actually his lowest among all four while his Team Shooting % was his second lowest. And his 2012-13 16.8% shooting percentage was pretty close to his 14.7% career average. Taken together, this suggests that Vanek – who at age 30 is still in his prime – could indeed be a point per game player again if put in the right situation.

 

Intangibles/Injuries

Each player brings with him some risk for next season and beyond. With Vanek, the concern is once he gets another big payday he might become disinterested or unmotivated, as although his skill has never been questioned his attitude and commitment certainly have.

 

For Kunitz, the concern is that as healthy as Sidney Crosby has been lately, we have to wonder what would happen to Kunitz if Crosby were to have recurring injury issues. But as it turns out, that kind of worst case scenario likely wouldn’t be as bad as imagined.

 

It’s true that Kunitz was far more productive in 2012-13 and 2013-14 (120 points in 126 games; 78 point full season pace) when Crosby played 116 of a possible 130 games than during 2010-11 and 2011-12 (109 points in 148 games; 60 point full season pace) when Crosby missed a total of 101 games. But in 2011-12 Kunitz played all 82 games, so we know that he only could’ve skated with Crosby in the 22 that Crosby played, representing just under 27% of Kunitz’s total games. Yet Kunitz actually scored only 11 of his 61 points (18%) on goals where Crosby was also on the ice in 2011-12, suggesting that Kunitz could still produce decently if Crosby was to get injured again.

 

With Vanek, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen next season and beyond. The good news is he’s already made nearly $52M in his NHL career, so this isn’t a case of a player at risk of phoning it in after signing his first big contract. Plus, in 2013-14 he didn’t follow his notorious pattern of starting the year red hot but ending it ice cold, so maybe that’s finally behind him.

 

In terms of injuries, Kunitz has missed only four games in the past three seasons after having missed between 12 and 20 games in each of the previous three, while Vanek has never played fewer than 71 games in a full season and has played 78 or more in each of the past three. Maybe it’s time to remove both guys from the Trainees list of Band-Aid Boys.

 

Who Wins?

Vanek wins in all but salary cap leagues, as Kunitz’s only point per game season occurred amidst PDO and Team/Personal Shooting Percentages that were far, far above any level that stands to be repeated.

 

Realistically, Kunitz is a 60-65 point (maybe 70 point) player. And since he’ll be turning 35 before the 2014-15 regular season (Vanek won’t turn 31 until January), he could lose a step at any moment, which could lead to his production dropping whether or not he stays stapled to Sidney Crosby. And while with Vanek there’s a risk of him phoning it in after signing a big contract this summer, there’s also a chance he finally gets to play long term with an elite center as talented as John Tavares, next to whom Vanek produced 44 points in 47 games in 2013-14.

 

Kunitz probably gets the edge in a cap league, since the gap between their salaries will likely be large enough to erase any edge Vanek would otherwise have. And even though I think Kunitz’s Hits will start to drop sooner rather than later, he might be the pick as well in leagues which heavily weight that specific category, since he’s been outhitting Vanek by roughly a six to one margin in recent years.

 

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